Shoulder pain with overhead movements

Pain in the shoulder when using the arm overhead such as in racket sports and swimming can be acute or chronic. Swelling can cause pain on overhead movements but frozen shoulder or a painful arc can also produce this pain. Pain when reaching or throwing can be due to a tear of the labrum (cartilage) or from damage to the ligaments, tendons, muscles or bones. A bursa can become impinged and inflamed on tasks overhead and cause a shooting or burning pain.

Shoulder pain with overhead movements can be affected by the sternoclavicular (SC) and acromioclavicular (AC) joints especially if swollen or damage as occurred. If there is laxity within the joint from minor subluxations this can produce overhead pain with a feeling of uncontrolled movement. Injuries with this symptom are listed below:
  • Rotator Cuff Tear

    Rotator Cuff Tear

    A rotator cuff strain is a tear to any of the four rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder and is common in throwing and racket sports. They are so called because their job is to rotate the arm at the shoulder and provide a supportive cuff around the joint. This shoulder injury can range from mild to severe and may be caused by activity in sports involving throwing and/or degeneration due to overuse.

  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

    Shoulder Impingement

    Impingement syndrome is sometimes called swimmer’s shoulder or thrower’s shoulder, and is caused by the tendons of the rotator cuff becoming trapped as they pass through the shoulder joint. It may follow a partial tear of a rotator cuff tendon, or come on gradually through overuse. Resting the shoulder and treating it as soon as possible will help to prevent long term damage.

  • Glenoid Labrum Tear

    Glenoid Labrum Tear

    The glenoid labrum is a fibrous ring of tissue which attaches to the rim of the glenoid shallow hole or socket of the shoulder blade where the ball of the humerus or arm bone sits. When this tissue tears, it creates general shoulder pain and weakness in the joint. This shoulder injury is often caused by repetitive movemment such as overhead throwing, so resting from these activities will help to ease the pain.

  • AC Joint Separation

    AC Joint Separation

    An AC joint separation, or AC joint sprain, is an injury to the ligament that holds the acromioclavicular joint together at the top of the shoulder. It is usually caused by a fall onto an outstretched arm and there can be different grades of damage. There will be severe pain and swelling on top of the shoulder, especially when trying to move the arm overhead. Read more about the different grades of this shoulder injury and what you can do to treat it, such as taping.

  • Frozen Shoulder

    Frozen Shoulder

    Adhesive capsulitis is the medical term for frozen shoulder, which is a condition causing pain and restricted movement in the shoulder joint. It is normally only seen in older people, with no specific cause. The shoulder will feel tight and stiff but with treatment, the pain will gradually ease to allow movement. Getting treatment as soon as possible will help prevent the injury from becoming too severe.

  • Shoulder Tendonitis

    Shoulder Tendonitis

    Shoulder Tendonitis or Tenosynovitis is a degenerative condition of any of the tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. This is usually the rotator cuff tendons but it can also occur in the biceps and triceps tendons. The shoulder pain usually comes on gradually and is due to repetitive movements and overuse. It is common in those with poor posture and those who use the joint a lot, like athletes who throw and manual workers.

  • Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

    Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

    Rotator cuff tendonitis or tendinopathy is a degenerative condition affecting one or more of the rotator cuff tendons in the shoulder. The shoulder pain can be present when resting and be exacerbated by lifting and moving the arm above the shoulder. The affected tendon will probably feel tender and treatment can help relieve these immediate symptoms. We also explain exercises that can be performed, once pain has gone, to help prevent the injury recurring.

  • Subacromial Bursitis

    Subacromial Bursitis

    Subacromial bursitis has similar symptoms to Supraspinatus tendinitis with shoulder pain over a 60-degree arc when the arm is lifted sideways. The subacromial bursa is a sack of fluid over the tendon which helps facilitate movement. This can become trapped, especially in sports where the arm is regularly at or above shoulder level. Resting from these activities helps stop the pain, and once pain-free, you can start doing rehabilitation exercises.

  • Subscapularis Inflammation

    Subscapularis Inflammation

    The subscapularis is a very powerful muscle that rotates the arm inwards, and is part of the rotator cuff group of muscles. When the subscapularis is inflamed it will be painful to move the shoulder and the tendon in the inner upper arm will be tender to touch. The subscapularis is often injured by throwers and can be stubborn to treat. Read more on how to treat this injury below.

  • Pec Major Tendon Inflammation

    Pec Major - inflammation

    The Pectoralis Major tendon is weakest where it inserts into the arm, or humerus bone. Common sports that can inflame the tendon include racket sports, rowing, swimming and weight training, and the pain when performing these activites will probably have increased over a period of time. Resting from these sports is essential to recovering form this shoulder injury. Read more on the symptoms and treatments below.

  • Long Head of Biceps Rupture

    Long Head Biceps Rupture

    The biceps muscle splits into two tendons at the shoulder. The long tendon runs over the top of the humerus bone and can suffer a partial rupture causing pain at the front of the shoulder. This shoulder injury is more common in older athletes and can cause pain down the arm and swelling in the joint.

  • Supraspinatus Rupture

    Supraspinatus Rupture

    The supraspinatus muscle runs along the top of the shoulder blade and inserts at the top of the arm, or humerus bone, and is one of the four rotator cuff muscles. A supraspinatus rupture can occur from a fall and from activities like throwing, causing an immediate, sharp shoulder pain. The treatment needed to recover from this will depend on if the rupture is partial or full.

  • Shoulder Pain

    Shoulder injuries can be either acute or chronic depending on when they are diagnosed and how long the pain or disability has been felt for. If you are not sure what your injury is why not check out our shoulder pain symptom checker! An acute shoulder injury occurs suddenly either through direct impact, over stretching a muscle, tendon or ligament, overusing a muscle or tendon or twisting of the shoulder joint. A chronic shoulder injury may come on gradually over time.

  • Chronic Shoulder Injuries

    Gradual onset shoulder pain or chronic shoulder pain may come on over a period of time. The athlete may not have known the exact time of injury which could have been niggling away for a while as they train through it. Due to the complexity of the shoulder joint, there are some injuries which may appear to have happened suddenly but also may develop gradually over time. A chronic shoulder injury may also be acutely painful.

  • Acute Shoulder Injuries

    Sudden onset or acute shoulder injuries are ones which happen suddenly, often though a fall onto an outstretched arm or through direct impact or over stretching or overloading. Often the athlete will feel a sudden sharp pain with discomfort and or loss of mobility. Sometimes there will be swelling and inflammation. It is important acute shoulder injuries are treated as soon as possible with the PRICE princples of immediate first aid. Always seek medical advice if pain is severe or you are in any doubt.